BOSTON – October 4, 2012 – Holland & Knight is pleased to announce its new partnership with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office’s Domestic Violence pro bono program. The unique program provides free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence during the restraining order process. Since its inception, the program has served more than 100 victims, with a 97 percent success rate of cases resolved in favor of the victim.
“We are very pleased to have Holland & Knight join the domestic violence pro bono program and are thankful to their attorneys for giving their time to a very gratifying and critical cause,” Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said. “Restraining orders are crucial for victims of domestic violence to protect themselves, and all too often victims who cannot afford an attorney return to the abusive environment that threatens them and their loved ones. This program works to help and empower them to end that dangerous cycle.”
“This program gives our attorneys a chance to work directly with victims who not only lack access to the legal system, but may be facing an unsafe environment,” said Holland & Knight partner Brett Carroll, who supervises the Boston office’s pro bono efforts. “Our firm is very enthusiastic about this new partnership and looks forward to working with the Middlesex District Attorney's Office to help protect these victims.”
The partnership, created in 2008, was designed to address a significant gap in the way that domestic violence victims are served during the restraining order process. Specifically, because a restraining order is a civil document, Assistant District Attorneys are unable to represent victims during that process. Many of those victims are unable to afford an attorney as, oftentimes, it is the abuser who controls the household finances. To address this problem, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office partners with local law firms to identify victims whose cases presented particular challenges and then refer those cases to the firms for free representation.
These restraining order hearings are critical, as they not only work to assure that the abuser cannot come in contact with the victim, but also frequently address other important issues such as assuring continued child support, utility payments, mortgage payments and health insurance payments.
In 2011, there were approximately 30,000 restraining orders filed by victims of domestic violence in the Commonwealth. In Middlesex County alone, there were approximately 5,000 restraining orders filed by victims. Of that number, the DA’s office and community-based victims advocates estimate that approximately half of the victims did not return for a 10-day hearing to extend the restraining order for the full year. A significant reason for that is that many of them did not have legal representation. Since the inception of the Domestic Violence Pro Bono Attorney Program, 90 percent of victims referred to the program returned to court for restraining order hearings.
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